5 Essential Herbs for Cajun and Creole Cooking

Cajun and Creole cuisines are filled with flavors and spice. It's a dramatic style of food from the Southern U.S. that relies heavily on fresh and dried herbs. If you're a fan of gumbo, spicy shrimp dishes, and that signature Creole chicken, then there are a few herbs you need in your pantry and garden.

First of all, it's important to note that there really is a difference between Cajun and Creole foods. It may be a minor technicality here and there, but it's important to the people who cook both. Also, it's important to realize that neither style of food is originally intended to be super spicy. The extreme heat is an interpretation popularized by the rest of the country.

Instead, Cajun and Creole food​s are all about the flavor, which is why it relies so much on a variety of herbs and spices. Let's take a look at five of the most important of those and ways that you can incorporate them into your garden.

  • 01 of 05



    The Spruce / Dr. J. Bodamer / Moment Open / Getty Images

    A delicious and well-known flavor, garlic is at the top of the must-have list for your Cajun cooking. It ties flavors together and creates a rich, satisfying base. 

    Growing garlic is very easy. It is technically a root vegetable and it is planted in the fall. Harvest takes place in mid-summer and it is cured before storing.

    This growing cycle makes it both tricky and convenient in garden design. It will be showing above ground by spring (even before the snow flies in mild winters) so you can plant other annuals around it.

    Also, once you buy garlic to plant you never have to buy it again if all goes well. Choose the healthiest, largest bulbs and separate the cloves without removing the skin. Each clove you put in the ground will become a new garlic plant.

  • 02 of 05


    Parsley on cutting board

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    Parsley is both cooling and refreshing. It's overall green taste complements the complex flavors of Cajun dishes. While a sprig of parsley is typically served alongside restaurant dishes, it's culinary uses go far beyond decoration.

    Easy to grow in just about any environment, parsley is a fantastic addition to any garden. Parsley is a biennial, meaning that it has a life cycle of two years. It can typically survive winter but will become bitter once it goes to seed.

    Watch your parsley plants and learn when the seeds are ready to harvest, then plant those to keep parsley in your garden at no additional cost. The seeds are very easy to grow.

    One of the best ways to grow parsley is in containers. This allows you to bring the healthiest plants in for the winter and continue enjoying the herb in your kitchen. You can also harvest and dry parsley for winter storage and use.

  • 03 of 05

    Bay Leaves

    Bay leaves

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    Bay leaves are perhaps the most undervalued herb in many cooking dishes. Many cooks simply skip this one if they don't have it and that is quite sad because a single leaf really does bring a lot of flavor to food.

    Removed from the tree just before cooking, bay leaves are overlooked because they are not visible to the finished dish. They are often removed before serving because the leaves do not get soft. Delicious and important, don't forget to keep your bay leaves handy for Cajun dishes, where they play an important role.

    The bay laurel plant is hardy in Zones 8 to 10, but it also makes the perfect container plant so you can bring it inside in the winter. It is a beautiful ornamental tree that can be pruned and sculpted, the ability to harvest the leaves for cooking is purely a bonus.

  • 04 of 05

    Cayenne Pepper

    Cayenne peppers in a bowl

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    Although notoriously hot, adding the cayenne pepper is not simply for the heat factor. Any good Cajun cook will tell you that it is about the flavor. Cayenne peppers will offer the flavor you want, with just enough kick to make you sit up and take notice. It is a must-have for Cajun cuisine.

    All hot peppers are very easy to grow in your garden and the cayenne is no different. It is nice in the garden and can make a great container plant as well so you can bring it inside come winter and enjoy fresh peppers until the plant has no more to give.

    Harvesting cayenne peppers should be done with gloves and to get the most peppers from the plant, they should be harvested regularly. The peppers can be dried in a bundle and pulled off as needed. It is one of those classic kitchen decor items that are as stunning to look at as it is useful.

    Of course, always be sure to wash your hands with hot soapy water after every time you touch a hot pepper. 

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05


    Sassafras bud

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    Pronounced FEE-lay, file powder is, quite simply, leaves from the sassafrass tree that are dried and powdered. It is absolutely the most important herb to add to your authentic gumbo because it is used to thicken and flavor this historical dish. Many families simply pass the shaker of​ file at the table.

    The sassafras tree is a beautiful ornamental that doubles as a shade tree. It is hardy in Zones 4 to 9 and is most captivating in autumn when the mitten-shaped leaves turn golden orange. In the spring it blooms with yellow flower clusters and it has a wonderful fragrance throughout the year.

    These trees like full sun to partial shade and can grow up to 30 to 60 feet tall with a spread of 25 to 40 feet. It's quite the spectacular tree which you may want to consider making a focal point in your landscape.